Fading Boundaries. Art & Buildings.

“I was interested in art but I grew up in a constant state of learning about architecture - studying how spaces look and feel,” explained Joseph excitedly as we set up the video cameras to record the 20 hour process of turning a blank canvas into a work of art. 

Joseph’s studio in his Kansas City family home was cluttered with variously sized canvases and paintings still in the works. His beautiful murals of churches and family portraits with bright colors and contrasting shading were hung on the walls, the paint texture playing beautifully with the light. This space, humble but perfect, was where creativity could flow free, and art and architecture could combine. 

An empty lot and an empty canvas both present an opportunity to make people see beauty in the world.
— Joseph Almendariz

A few days prior to the encounter with Joseph, five Prairie Design Build team members sat in their office around a glass table trying to answer the abstract question - how do we visually depict the potential of a house if we haven’t built it yet? 

The PDB team was working on drawing attention to an empty lot they owned that was ready to be built upon. The lot, located three minutes from KU Med and nestled in a lovely cul de sac, had incredible potential for a beautiful new family home. The team had floor plans and renderings to showcase for the site, but these didn’t quite align with the fact that the home was not built yet and had no input from a client's own imagination.


As with most unchartered ideas, David spoke up with a little hesitation, “I know an artist who does really good architectural painting, maybe he could paint us something beautiful?” The rest of the team unanimously agreed that a painting represented exactly what PDB stood for - meticulous detail, attention to beauty, and craftsmanship. That’s what the lot had the potential to hold.

So, the next day we set up our cameras and Joseph began to paint. Joseph explains the power of painting, saying,  “I think there is that creative spirit in everybody and that art stimulates that creativity and allows people with other talents and the means to create things to be pushed a little farther than they would of without that inspiration. I see art as the catalyst in architecture.”


His process is extremely meticulous as we see in the video. He covers the canvas and then as quickly as possible places the elements of the house on the canvas. To get the scale of the building he paints people into the scene, a near impossibility to see in a video that compresses 20 hours of diligent brush strokes into two and a half minutes of video. We can see when the idea of the house changes in Joseph’s mind and he alters his vision on the canvas. The colors begin to take shape and beautiful landscaping comes in. “There are colors that focus your eyes. I’ll put a little yellow flower near a wood element with sunlight sparkling on it to allow your eyes to explore and find correlations between things that you may not have noticed.” We notice the way the Prairie Design Build windows glimmer, how the wood around the veranda is rounded, and the colors between building materials add visual appeal to the home. Joseph brings art to an empty lot.

Painting stimulates creativity in the viewer whereas a photo just showcases a thought.”
— Joseph Almendariz

As the painting comes to a close we see beauty unlike any we could capture in a photograph. “I think the paint allows more inspiration, it allows the viewers imagination to continue the thought, but a photograph, the thought is what it is. Painting stimulates creativity in the viewer whereas a photo just showcases a thought.”

Four days after we first set up the cameras to capture Joseph’s work, it was time to collect them and begin to put together the time lapse. As we were closing up shop, Joseph explained what his hope was for the painting, saying, “My goal is to paint hope, joy, peace, love, even if it’s not exactly seen in the painting. The painting should stimulate creativity in the home owner and maybe push the home owner further in their design of their home on that lot.”

And with that Joesph concluded that original thought David had glimpsed in his mind at the Prairie Design Build office five days earlier - let's see what we can do with the area that fades between building and art. 

Mission Cliffs Update

Just before the new year, ground was broken on two of our lots in the Mission Cliffs neighborhood. Combining modern and sophisticated architecture with proven energy reducing strategies, these two 2,000 square-foot single family homes will be the lowest energy-consuming homes in Kansas City. Our Facebook posts have highlighted the work that has been completed on the first home since the groundbreaking. This month’s blog post provides a full timeline of how the project has come together and what work is left before the first model home is ready in August.

The first of two similar speculative homes at Mission Cliffs will have a walkout basement and access to local trails at the back of the property.

The first of two similar speculative homes at Mission Cliffs will have a walkout basement and access to local trails at the back of the property.

During February the footings, foundation walls, and floor slabs were put in prior to the prefabricated wall panels being delivered in March. High density foam along with a polyethylene liner was placed underneath the floor slab, creating a thermally broken foundation assembly. David Hawkins discussed the system in our first video of the progress. In addition to the floor system, there is high density foam between the poured foundation walls and framed interior walls that will aid in temperature control for the home.

In March the prefabricated wall panels for the first home were packaged and delivered to the job site by BuildSMART from Lawrence, KS. The panels make up the entire exterior shell of the homes and consist of standard 2x4 framing, sheathed with plywood that sits behind six inches of rigid foam insulation and a ZIP board shell. All windows and exterior doors in these panels came installed and saved weeks of labor for our crew if the home had been framed traditionally.

Once the walls were up, roof trusses were installed and the home was dry-in. The trusses feature extended heels that allow for more insulation and help eliminate another area of common thermal bridging. This is one of the many details that will help to keep these homes within a five degree temperature range year-round.

By the end of April we had our first of three open houses with guests ranging from architects and designers to the Kansas City, Kansas mayors office and Chamber of Commerce representatives. Once the rough-in of plumbing, electrical, and HVAC is complete, we will host our second open house outlining the unique mechanical systems that will help keep energy costs low in our homes.

In the last month we have conducted blower door testing to measure the air tightness of the home. The test measures the number of air exchanges per hour when the house is pressurized at 50 pascals. A regular code home changes air about seven times per hour, while the Passive House standards require less than 0.6 exchanges per hour. Our home achieved 0.52 air exchanges per hour on the very first test! We plan on retesting after plumbing, electrical, and HVAC rough-in.

Just over a week ago, the wall panel system for the second lot at Mission Cliffs was delivered. Construction is expected to begin on that home in the coming weeks, as we look to finish up the first home by August. Stay tuned for the next post featuring the mechanical systems in the first home and the progress at the second speculative house at Mission Cliffs!

104th Street Exterior Remodel

104th Street Exterior Remodel

The clients’ new “Blue House” was regarded as an eyesore among the neighbors, much in need of updating. This young family fell in love with the layout of the mid-century modern home and brought a fresh look to the neighborhood. Exterior cladding was upgraded to cedar sheathing, horizontal fiber cement sheathing, and ledge cut dry stack stone, to create a unique modern look that neighbors have thanked the owners for. New sliding doors and expansion of the existing decks make this home more functional for a young family.

25 Under 25 Award

Prairie Design Build is proud to be recognized as part of Thinking Bigger Business Media, Inc.’s 2016 Class of the 25 Under 25 Award. The 25 Under 25 awards program recognizes 25 outstanding Kansas City businesses with fewer than 25 employees based on financial stability, ability to overcome adversity and challenges, community involvement, distinguishing or defining characteristics, and company vision.

Little Blue Pool, Pool House, & Entryway

Little Blue Pool, Pool House, & Entryway

The homeowner at this 100+ year-old property sought to create a vacation-like destination for friends and family on their property while matching every pre-existing detail. Working with ample space, a unique four-sided infinity pool, outdoor kitchen with full amenities, and pool house with custom spa were created. The outdoor space was tied into the original home with ipe pergolas mounted on stone columns, creating a resort-like view path from the entryway to the end of the pool deck through the columns. Close collaboration throughout the project made the homeowner’s dream a reality.

Lake Quivira Passive House - High Performance Window Installation

Proper window installation is critical to Passive House construction. As the windows are the only “hole” in the building envelope, ensuring the air barrier is properly sealed and remains continuous around all the windows in the home is crucial.

In the below video, the high performance window installation at the Lake Quivira Passive House is reviewed by Building Scientist David Hawkins.

The window installation process begins by prepping the window buck system with Prosoco Fast Flash and Joint & Seam Filler. These products are a liquid applied flashing membrane that simultaneously provide waterproofing and airtightness. The two products come in sausage-like packages and are applied using a specialized caulk gun. Prosoco Joint & Seam Filler (“Pink sausage,” as we call it on site) is first applied in areas where the seams are a bit thicker, such as corners and gaps. Fast Flash (“red sausage”) is then gunned onto the outside of the substrate before being troweled overtop of the entire outside surface.

The Prosoco flashing system is incredibly sticky, so we wait to apply it to the inside surface of the window buck until  immediately prior to window installation. By waiting, it won’t collect any particles or dirt that might create voids in the air barrier.

Location of the windows on the home and their placement within the wall are both very science driven. We have a healthy window buck of twelve inches, which allows us some flexibility in where we place our windows inside the wall cavity. The Lake Quivira Passive House windows are installed in the center of the window buck. This is the highest performing, lowest heat transfer location in the assembly. If the windows were installed flush with the outside of the window buck, the convection currents of the winds on the exterior would have increased heat transfer. Conversely, if they were installed on the inside, the same thing would happen on the interior. This decision can be illustrated much the same as wearing a coat with a hood in the winter time. When you put the hood over your head, you notice that your face feels a lot warmer. That is because it’s sheltered from the winds and convection currents that would make your face feel a lot colder.

The massive Passive House certified windows are extremely heavy, and required four guys from our crew just to maneuver and lift them into place. They are triple-paned, argon-filled, and have very large frames. Alone, these windows have an R-value of around eleven in the center of glass. Taking into account our window detailing and installation methods, we have an overall R-value of seven to eight, depending on the glazing to window frame ratio. More glazing area compared to frame equates to higher R-values.  

Typical windows use nailing fins to attach them to the home. There are no nailing fins on these windows. Instead, metal straps attach to the window frame in order to secure it to the window buck. This allows us to place the window exactly where we want, which is in the middle of the wall. Everything lines up, as our thermal insulation layer coincides with the window panes, giving us optimum thermal performance.

The windows must now be incorporated into the interior air barrier membrane. This is done by using a very high performance tape to attach the interior air barrier membrane directly to the window frame. Rather than relying on spray foam around the windows, which can expand and contract, eventually causing voids in the air barrier, this high performing tape allows for movement without cracking. This tight seal ensures our air barrier is continuous around the entire home.

A key characteristic of the Lake Quivira high performance window installation is the foam that we have installed around all of our window and door frames. The frames of the windows and doors are the weakest part and allow the most heat transfer. To combat this issue, we installed strips of foam around the frame, which greatly reduces heat loss for a better overall performance. The foam is installed on both the interior and exterior sides of the frame. By sandwiching the frame on both sides with foam, we are able to increase the performance of the windows and doors by about 20%.

Superior window installation methods are critical to ensuring continuity of the air barrier throughout the home. The windows on the Lake Quivira Passive House have been installed using techniques that will ensure the home stays airtight, energy-efficient, and comfortable for long to come.

Lake Quivira Passive House - Blower Door Test

Prairie Design Build brought in Mary English of Small Step Energy Solutions to test the airtightness of the Lake Quivira Passive House.

Airtightness directly impacts the energy efficiency of a house, and is also linked to a comfortable and healthy interior living space. Many people who complain that their home is just old a drafty don’t realize there are steps that can be made to tighten up the house. That is where Small Step comes in.

Small Step Energy Solutions is a certified energy rater and conducts home energy audits to help homeowners make energy efficient and green improvements to their home and lifestyles. Performing a variety tests, Small Step helps homeowners pinpoint exactly where improvements are needed and outlines solutions to increase the comfortability and healthiness of their home.

In this video, Mary English performs a Blower Door Test to verify the airtightness of the Lake Quivira Passive House. After running the test and calculating the results, the Lake Quivira Passive House was one of the tightest homes Small Step had ever tested - including some high performance new construction homes.

A final test will need to be run once the final floor insulation and interior finishes have been installed, but the Lake Quivira Passive House is already testing among the tightest houses in the area.

For more information on the other tests and services that Small Step Energy Solutions provides, please visit their website: http://smallstepenergy.com/home-energy-audits/

Lake Quivira Passive House - Air Barrier Testing

The interior air barrier installation is complete at the Lake Quivira Passive House. We now need to identify any voids that may exist and seal any cracks, seams, or holes. The PDB Crew did a great job of sealing during installation, methodically going through all of the details and junctions of materials changing. However, until we perform a few field testing techniques, there is no way to verify that every penetration is secured.

The video below shows Building Scientist David Hawkins performing multiple testing techniques to isolate and seal penetrations in the interior air barrier.

The process begins by putting the home under a depressurization state using a Blower Door. This depressurization forces outside air into the home through any voids in the air barrier. There are multiple methods to isolate locations of air leakage, some being as simple as using our physical senses of hearing, feeling, and seeing.

Many of the holes are so small, that the air coming through a hole produces a whistle sound. Walking past certain locations in the home, one can physically hear air entering the home. Likewise, by running a hand across certain areas, one can physically feel air blowing through very fine cracks and seams.

After initially addressing the larger penetrations that one can hear or feel, further identification becomes very difficult. At this point, we employ some field tools paired with our sense of sight.

One of the special characteristics of the Lake Quivira Passive House is that it has a crawl space in which we are able to test the floor air barrier. The floor is one of the more difficult surfaces upon which to recognize leaks. The technique we use utilizes a theater fog machine to fill the entire crawl space with smoke. While under a depressurization state, the home sucks the smoke from the crawl space up through any holes in the floor air barrier. Any place where smoke enters the home gets sealed.

Another technique that utilizes field tools and our eyes involves using a lighter around the interior walls. In locations where there may be a leak that can’t be pinpointed, we use a lighter and see how the flame reacts. Any spot where the flame dances in the opposite direction of the wall is immediately secured.

Finally, the most precise tool used to identify air penetrations is an infrared camera. The camera recognizes air temperature differences in a certain location. Anywhere the is a difference in temperature between the air inside the home and the air entering the home shows up on the camera. The infrared camera identified tiny cracks in some existing sealant around a bottom plate, and was then resealed.

The air barrier needs to be as tight as possible, as it is a vital part of our energy efficient home. With all of these techniques and the help of our Blower Door, we were able to isolate and seal remaining cracks, holes, and seams throughout the air barrier, making the Lake Quivira Passive House even tighter.